Tag Archives: nyc

mama-ben adventure day!

Many years ago, I came up with the model for Mama-Ben adventure days.  These were days in which we would pick one or two activities to do together, usually in Manhattan, hence the “adventure” part because you never know what kind of adventure would await those who brave the weekend subway! With Ben’s sports schedule though, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do a solid Saturday adventure together.  So yesterday, we decided that we would spend the day exploring and seeing things a little further from home, both in Manhattan and the Bronx.

20181201_132038

Ben is actually in the Bronx!

We started our day at the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit, at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West side.  This was a literal history of magic as seen through a Harry Potter lens: historical artifacts from magical practices over the last five centuries, intermixed with illustrations and notes from the books.  A friend and I bought tickets for this in April for our Pottermaniac children to see the exhibit together.

Harry Potter exhibit at British Library
This made the exhibit a smidge drier than expected, even for my self-identified Ravenclaw.  While he had mild curiosity around alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, and enjoyed the interactive elements (projections of Tarot cards were an especial favorite), not even the Natalie Dormer narrated audio tour could make this magical enough.  Individuals more into the magical aspects of the Harry Potter series, as opposed to the action elements, will get more out of this exhibit.  The exhibit was beautifully done, of course, with each room carefully crafted and designed to reflect the studies covered within.  I wish photography had been allowed.
We moved on from there to an impromptu lunch at Shake Shack: having run into another friend at the end of the exhibit with her two sons (the younger of which is also buddies with Ben), we decided to all get lunch together.  Believe it or not this was our first trip to Shake Shack!  Ben declared it the best burger ever.  We plan to test drive the method at home ASAP.
We headed from the Upper West Side to Orchard Beach after lunch, a half-hour drive across the Bronx and through the also unvisited Pelham Bay Park.  For the seven years we’ve lived here, we’ve clearly not prioritized visiting all the parks as we should.  Pelham Bay was lovely and huge, with an extensive shoreline that was austerely beautiful in the winter cold and grey.
20181201_132818
This reminds me of beaches in Victoria: it looks cold even in the photo
We had traveled out for seal watching with the NYC Park Rangers.  I am so grateful for the park rangers in this city: every single one of them has been amazing in their kindness, knowledge and in the joy they take sharing their love of nature and their parks.  For the seal watching, they had set up two high powered telescopes so we could see the dozen or so harbour seals lounging on the rocks just off the beach
20181201_132903
Ben is very fond of harbour seals: he bonded with the ones that live off the Oak Bay marina when he was just a toddler:

It was therefore meaningful for us to visit those seals’ New York cousins, even though I’m pretty sure that these Bronx seals were all WHAT’RE YOU LOOKING AT, PUNK.  Ben still enjoyed seeing them, and I appreciated the opportunity to show him seals that are not dependent on humans for food.  Ben is very concerned about the Victoria seals since the “no feeding” rules were enforced; these seals proved that even metro area harbour seals can survive without handouts.

From the seals, we stayed in Pelham Bay Park and went to the Turtle Cove golf center for mini-golf.  I was underwhelmed by the mini-golf course, which I suppose could be described as “minimalist”.  I suspect the positive reviews of the location are for the driving range, which looked quite nice.  However, we were the only people playing mini golf and they had a heater in the women’s bathroom so the experience was redeemed.  Also, Ben’s attitude towards mini golf is what most people say about pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still just fine.  It was hard for me to say no to a second round, even in the ocean-adjacent chill. Fortunately, that was when one of Ben’s buddies mom’s texted, asking if Ben could come see Ralph Breaks the Internet with her son, and I was able to leverage that as a reason to skip Round Two. Also, Ben only wanted a round two because I had beat him, 49 strokes to his 63, and he is very competitive about his mini-golf.

It was, chilliness aside, a lovely adventure day.  Ben is getting larger every day, and needs me less and less all the time.  I’m grateful when he genuinely wants to spend time with me, when in-city adventures with Mama are more important than playdates.  I’m even more grateful when I can find an activity that is special to both of us, like going out to see the seals.  I do not wish to appropriate the phrase “spirit animal”, but in my British Isles heritage, there is the myth of the selkie instead, which both Ben and I insist we are when there is a plate of raw fish involved.  However, we are coming up on teen years, and I’m running out of days when Ben will want to acknowledge the significance of marina mammals in our family narrative.  Some day, I will just get an eye roll and a muttered “seals are so lame, Mom.” from him.  Until that day comes, I need to better prioritize the time I do have him for adventures like this.

Why so serious?

Paul and I were glad to end up in NYC for many reasons. Not the least of these is that there is still a goth scene here. Goth is a dying subculture, after all, in a quite literal sense. In cities all over America, clubs are closing and in places where the subculture wasn’t strong to start with, it hasn’t taken much to wipe it out entirely. And while my husband and I do not feel like we need to be hardcore goths every single day, there are times when we just want to wear our stompy boots and black outfits and dance with each other to that particular strain of melancholia that is goth music. Hence, we are happy to live in New York, the birthplace of American goths, and one of only a handful of cities remaining with a dedicated scene.

And so, we have been trying to explore the goth scene, and trying to understand where we belong in it. In Los Angeles, we knew all the promoters and clubs. We followed DJ Xian, with her synth pop and steampunk scene. We went to Das Bunker, with its three rooms of hardcore industrial, retro EBM and powernoize. And we went to Bar Sinister, Los Angeles’ longest running, privately owned goth club, which was predictable in the best way possible in that it always looked and sounded like something out of a dystopia, plus it had both a live band playing outside and a dance floor. (I saw Shiny Toy Guns there. Before they were cool)

We have found some clubs we really like in the process. Two weeks ago, we went to Necropolis, in the basement space of a club in the Lower East Side. We were early, and walked in before midnight to a DJ a little older than us, playing a mix of what we could only describe as real goth, first-wave goth, classic goth rock from before the culture started evolving and splitting into sub genres in the 1990s. It’s a style of music we know, and like, but not a genre where we know any artists beyond the big, popular, bands that are still staples of clubs everywhere – bands like Virgin Prunes or Christian Death, or, most recognizably, Sisters of Mercy.

The second DJ who came on was playing music that was more from what we think of as “our era”: Rosetta Stone, London after Midnight. I bounced off the floor when he threw in an EBM dance track: Icon of Coil’s “Dead Enough for Life” (it had been so long since I’d heard it that I didn’t remember the song title, even though I was happily singing along). But after that oneindustrial techno track, it was 1990s goth rock – not a synthesizer, sample or drum machine to be heard.

I’m used to second -wave clubs where the DJS play a mix of synth, electro, Deathrock and mandatory classic goth tracks. In fact, a year ago, if someone had told me there were clubs where no one put VNV Nation on the playlist, or where it wasn’t mandatory to play “This Corrosion” once a night, I would have been surprised. After all, I came of age in the goth scene in 2000, in Seattle, which, at the time, was all EBM and electronic industrial and the Metropolis record label. And Los Angeles, much to my surprise and delight, was very similar to Seattle. I adapted fast to L.A., and it was that existng familiarity with the West Coast goth scene that led to meeting my husband at Bar Sinister a few months after I started going back to goth clubs.

But here in NYC, there is no Bar Sinister…or, at least, we have yet to find it. There is no self-stereotyped goth club, nothing that is borderline vampy and campy like Sinister was. The scene here is serious, old-school serious, Deathrock and goth rock and post punk dominate, and there are none of the new goth bands (like my beloved Birthday Massacre) to be heard. My equally beloved rave-influenced electronic dance music is missing, and instead, everything is from a generation I missed entirely. Not by much, mind you – the advent of electronics and synthesizers into goth coincided with my 21st birthday – but it’s still something I never picked up.

It isn’t that I don’t know or haven’t heard of these bands. I know who Mission UK are, or Gene loves Jezebel, or Fields of the Nephilim. I definitely know the Chameleons, because “Swamp Thing” is our song, a late 80s alternative track that my husband liked enough to gain enough courage from to ask me to dance, all those years ago (and we played it at our wedding, and I sang it to Ben as a lullaby). But hearing these songs without a track listing in a club, I can’t identify the artists. Much of it has that melodramatic sound, the melodic, mournful sound of that late 80s/early 90s goth rock. Or it has the sharp edges and asynchromatic nature of post punk, the discordant, minimal bass, guitar and drum around less sung than spoken vocals. ( Paul likes post punk better than I do – it overlaps with his indie rock nature.)

And it has been like that in the clubs we have been to in Lower Manhattan. Maybe its that these clubs are in “Gothtown”, the East Village, Alphabet City and Lower East Side scene that goth came from, and it just hasnt changed since. The only other major variation has been the extremely stompy hardcore industrial club that Paul enjoys, but it is really stompy, like Skinny Puppy stompy. Before my time, and not my variation, either – I was never a rivethead.

It is also a different scene here, in terms of dress and fashion, than it was in LA. The biggest DJ/promoter in LA was DJ Xian, who somehow managed to run and play at multiple clubs. Her influence skewed to New Romantic and synth pop, in clubs like Malediction Society and MODE:M, which was an entire night of music influenced by Depeche Mode. She ran Alice in Wonderland and Victoriana special events: Paul and I spent one NYE at a party called “Theater des Wyrm”, complete with absinthe. This fit my corsets and long dresses style perfectly. I have always been a Victoriana style goth, and my favorite clothes – the ones I feel most comfortable in – are ankle-length, laced at the waist, and high necked, preferably with lace sleeves and visible lacing.

The box of clothes I brought from LA are therefore all skewed to this aesthetic. Yet I don’t see any steampunk or repro Victoriana in the clubs here. I don’t even see much cyber goth, although that may be more due to cyber goth being outdated. (I flirted with cyber goth ten years ago, but even then, my PVC dress was ankle length…and I was never able to get the cyber goth braids and dyed hair I wanted because I work in office jobs)

But while I miss the predictability and the familiarity of the L.A. Goth scene, I am getting used to this more old school version of the goth scene. It’s still a scene, a sound, a style I love. It’s still music I like and enjoy listening to, even if I don’t know it. And that’s why, when I went out with my husband two weeks ago, we still managed to dance for an hour, even though we didn’t know the music by heart. It was music we liked, it was our people, and we could have stayed all night had we not been already tired.

Sharing the world from the back of my bike

I consider the bicycle to be the perfect solution for short distance transportation. Its faster than walking, yet isn’t at a speed where i lose connection to the world around me. In a car, you’re cut off from the world around you; in a subway, the subway is the world around you. On a bike, I can speed through the streets of NYC, from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, and see, feel, and even smell every detail of the city around me. (This is more pleasant when it’s a passing restaurant than when it’s Garbage Tuesday). Living in a city as dense and fascinating as New York, i think riding a bike is the perfect way to get around.

And, because I am from the Pacific Northwest, being able to ride my bike in a city is important to me. I still take the same joy from flying through a city street, from outpacing a car in traffic, from seeking a path through the urban landscape, that I did as a teenager. Riding through traffic, I’m focused on the calculations of my own movement, and the movement of the objects around me: cars, pedestrians, buses, Other cyclists. I’m in a zone where I am totally immersed in the present moment, where I’m focused on being in motion through a fascinating, and often beautiful, world around me. I’m in complete control of my speed, connected with both the machine I’m using to move, and the world I’m moving through, and it’s an amazing mind-clearing experience.

But in all of this, I just love riding a bike because it allows me to really see the city I now live in. I can go anywhere without worrying about traffic or parking. I can see the streets around me, yet have time to notice details. And I can experience the most beautiful places in New York, along the waterways and historical edges of the city, and choose to stop, to slow down, to pass by. I am fully immersed in the city. I am able to know the city better from my bike, by covering more of it at bike speed, than I ever could otherwise.

So, of course, I have been waiting to share this with Ben. I had been planning to acquire a trailer bike: one of those half-bikes for children that attaches to a grownups bike. I mentioned this to Paul’s cousin in law when we last visited Philadelphia for Easter. She immediately went to her garage, and handed me the bike she had been using with her youngest child. “We never use it anymore,” she said. “Take it, and send a picture.”. I was delighted. It was like getting a new toy, and I couldn’t wait to connect it to my newly tuned up and fixed up bike, and head off into Brooklyn with my baby.

It took us a month, while we searched for a missing hitch piece, but Ben and I finally started riding together this weekend. I connected up the trailer bike to my bike, and did a test run with it, up to the bike store to pump up Bens tire. Ben was apprehensive at first, but finally allowed himself to be coaxed onto the bike. Then, once he felt safe, we started moving. Once he realized he wasnt going to fall, he sat on the bike, thrilled to be moving so fast, and occasionally trying to pedal (his little legs are JUST a bit short, so he can’t really pedal yet, but he does half rotations when he can). After the first test ride, Ben proclaimed the trailer bike to be “awesome”. With that endorsement, we took off our on first neighborhood adventure, and set off to ride around Prospect Park.

I found out quickly that, while having the trailer bike on the back doesn’t affect my balance too much, it does mean I have to adjust to the added weight. I can’t turn corners too sharply, and I can’t stop suddenly, so I do have to ride in a more conservative way than I usually do. The trailer bike also adds over sixty pounds (the bike is 30 pounds and Ben weighs about 36 pounds), so I’m riding with a lot more weight than I’m used to.

But it is so worth it to be able to ride with Ben on the back of the bike! It opens up a whole range of Brooklyn for us to experience. Yesterday, we actually saw the other side of Prospect Park, parts of the park we’ve never been to because it just took too long to walk there. We looped the whole park in less than half an hour, when it would take hours, even with Ben’s trike, to cover that much ground, if we had been going to the library or the Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza, we could have covered the mile and change up there in ten minutes, and not in the twenty-plus it usually takes us. Small differences, but when you’re dealing with a small child and his short little legs, they become bigger differences. Plan changing differences. Suddenly, extra minutes add up into hours, and I can travel without planning around subway lines, around bus schedules, or around Ben’s ability to walk or ride his trike.

Saturday, we managed to loop the park and pick up take -out on the way home. Yesterday, we decided on an even bigger adventure. After hearing that Ben’s BFF Aidan, and his dad Brian, were going up to DUMBO to visit Brooklyn Bridge Oark and ride the carousel, we decided to bike up and meet them. I checked a bike map of Brooklyn, loaded up the kiddo, and off we went. We coasted down the hill, from Park Slope down to Gowanus, and then headed north though Carroll Gardens into Cobble Hill. We pedaled through Brooklyn Heights, and downtown Brooklyn, and finally came out at the new waterfront park. After some confusion, we made our way to the little beach between the bridges, whe Ben happily threw rocks into the East River for twenty minutes while I gulped water and rested.

We had a lovely time at the park, too. Aidan and Ben got to ride the carousel. For them, it was just a carousel ride, but for us grownups, it’s an experience. Jane’s Carousel is in a clear plastic enclosure on the East River, to protect it from the weather. It is an exquisitely restored carousel that was orginally commissioned, like a work of art, for the then prosperous city of Youngstown, OH, in 1922. The horses are beautifully carved and painted, the floor is honey-colored wood, and even the ceiling is gorgeously detailed, painted with flowers and vines and butterflies. It’s a fantasy carousel, even more so because of where it’s located, across from Manhattan, with views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The music it plays is from a pipe organ and an automated drum, and combined with the grass, the sunshine and all the happy families out for Mothers Day, it felt more like we were in a small town, part of a community, than in the big, impersonal city. It was just astonishingly beautiful, and it made Ben so happy to ride the carousel with his buddy.

After that though, we had to say our goodbyes and ride home. We followed the bike lanes back down through Red Hook, east into Carroll Gardens, down through Gowanus, over the canals, und the subway…and back to the start of the hill up to Park Slope. They don’t call it the Slope because it’s flat. It’s called Park Slope because there is a very long slope that leads up to the neighborhood. It’s just under a mile, five long streets, from 2nd Avenue to 7th Avenue. I shifted down several gears, and took it one street at a time. Unfortunately, by then, Ben was starting to get tired, hungry and crabby, and was whining that the hill would make him more tired. As I pushed the pedals, gasped for breath, and just tried to keep moving, i kept hearing “I’m tired, Mama. I don’t want to ride anymore,” and only the threat of walking (“I will stop this bike and we can both walk it home!”) got him to stop whining.

But we made it home successfully, albeit with slightly frayed nerves. And except for those last few minutes, it was a wonderful bonding experience. While that bonding is the best part of the rides, I also love that being on a bike lets Ben see the world around him. While we were riding through Cobble Hill, he suddenly observed, “These are pretty houses, Mama.”. And they were. We were in a section of brick town homes, some painted colors, some left reddish brown, and Ben noticed that. I want my baby to grow up to really notice and observe the world around him. Letting him see it from the back of my bike is worth every second of the ride up the Slope.

manhattan madness

I’m in NYC again today, comfortably ensconced in the Sheraton Midtown. I’m here for all of two days again, flying out tomorrow. I miss Mr Ben already, and I still woke up at 5:30, local time, without the sound of him trying to walk in his crib (it thumps against the wall between the bedrooms).

Last night, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t do much more than procure dinner and go to bed. The Theater District is notoriously overcrowded and overpriced, due to the high concentration of tourists. Yelp recommended the halal cart on 53rd and 6th. Yes, that is the first street vendor I’ve ever known to have their own website while still running a cart. I took my chicken, rice and lettuce to go, picked up some Tasti-d-Lite for dessert, and returned to my hotel room.

In the process though, I was thinking about why New York City feels, weirdly, familiar to me. It shouldn’t. I’m from as far away from here as you can get in terms of North American cities (and right now, Victoria does seem half a world away). The reason this city feels to me like someplace I visited in childhood, is because of all those children’s books that are set in the city, whose titles I totally can’t remember the names of. But they’re out there, dozens of them, books about children living in apartments in Manhattan, about children living in houses in Brooklyn, about Central Park, all these books that describe the city. And because of that, when I get to New York, it’s that lifetime of cultural references, starting with those books, that makes it feel more familiar than it should.

Also, sometimes, when I’m walking through Midtown, it reminds me of downtown Vancouver: the same density, the glass buildings, the thousands of people. The difference is, of course, that Vancouver backs onto the mountains and the rest of British Columbia. Manhattan flows out in all directions to suburbs across the rivers, millions of people, and no end in sight. Like Los Angeles, but with more parks and green space instead of all the roads and cement, which is KIND OF RIDICULOUS.

I think I have enough time to scoot up for a quick walk to Central Park and back down – it’s seven of the short blocks from here (streets?) I’d better get on that.